WITH President Benigno Aquino 3rd and President Rodrigo Duterte in succession, the Philippines has indisputably entered the age of post-truth politics.
The two presidential luminaries have midwifed this development with a cascade of fake news, fake facts and alternative truths that, perhaps not surprisingly, has earned the Philippines the distinction of being the country where people have the least trust in each other.
In the Mamasapano massacre, which is due for a new high-powered inquiry, Aquino and Duterte will duel with their respective versions of what happened and who is to blame. Fake news, fake facts and alternative truth will be put to the test.
This is squarely in the spirit of “post-truth politics,” the buzz-word of the day, which no journalist should fail to comprehend.
By itself, the term “post-truth” was selected by the Oxford dictionary as the word of the year in 2016.
“Post-truth politics” is the bigger banana, because it is the politics of the times, with the advent of Donald Trump, Brexit, and a string of political leaders, Duterte included.
Post-truth politics defined
“Post-truth politics,” according to David Roberts (he is credited with coining the term), “is a political culture in which debate is framed largely by appeals to emotion disconnected from the details of policy, and by the repeated assertion of talking points to which factual rebuttals are ignored. Post-truth differs from traditional contesting and falsifying of truth by rendering it of ‘secondary’ importance.”
While this has been described as a contemporary problem, there is a possibility that it has long been a part of political life, but was less notable before the advent of the Internet.
In the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell depicted a world in which the state changes daily historic records to fit its propaganda goals of the day. Orwell based much of his criticism of this on Soviet Union practices.
In 2004, Ralph Keyes used the term “post-truth era” in his book by that title. The same year American journalist Eric Alterman spoke of a “post-truth political environment” and coined the term “the post-truth presidency” in his analysis of the misleading statements made by the Bush administration after 9/11.
Jennifer Hochschild, H.L. Jayne Professor of Government at Harvard University, has described the rise of post-truth as a return to 18th and 19th century political and media practices in the United States, following a period in the 20th century where the media was relatively balanced and rhetoric was toned down. The pamphlet wars that arose with the growth of printing and literacy beginning in the 1600s have been described as an early form of post-truth politics. Slanderous and vitriolic pamphlets were cheaply printed and widely disseminated, and the dissent that they fomented led to wars and revolutions such as the English Civil War and the American War of Independence.
A Vote Leave poster with a misleading claim about the EU membership fee is cited as an example of post-truth politics.
A defining trait of post-truth politics is that campaigners continue to repeat their talking points, even if these are found to be untrue by the media or independent experts.
Michael Deacon, parliamentary sketchwriter for the Daily Telegraph, summarized the core message of post-truth politics as “Facts are negative. Facts are pessimistic. Facts are unpatriotic.” He added that post-truth politics can also include a claimed rejection of partisanship and negative campaigning.
In its most extreme mode, post-truth politics can make use of conspiracism. In this form of post-truth politics, false rumors become major news topics.
Oxford picks “post-truth”
Oxford Dictionaries selected “post-truth” as its 2016 Word of the Year because of its prevalence in the Brexit referendum and the US presidential election. Oxford cited a 2,000 percent increase in usage compared to 2015.
According to Oxford, the term post-truth was first used in a 1992 essay by the late Serbian-American playwright Steve Tesich in the Nation. Tesich wrote that following the shameful truth of Watergate, more assuaging coverage of the Iran-Contra scandal and Persian Gulf War, Americans freely decided that they want to live in a post-truth world.
The Internet was originally envisioned as egalitarian and as an opportunity for individuals to learn and for societies to improve. It hasn’t worked out that way; instead technology has magnified people’s strengths and weaknesses, exposed the frailties of human nature, and in many instances increased inequality.
The Internet became a tool to serve the post-truth politics of contending political parties and groups.
The information highway, says one of my readers, “was replaced by the propaganda expressway. Levels of trust have eroded as access has exploded, with governments exercising greater control and providing ‘alternative facts’ as their army of trolls and keyboard warriors sow confusion and misinformation. New euphemisms are rising, but the truth is still that, and a lie is a lie is a lie.”
“Fake news” and “alternative truth” have been served as alternative terms for what is happening in politics, but it is “post-truth” that appears to have caught on as experts, pundits and academics have adopted it.
Post-truth political leadership
Filipino political leaders have been no slouch in adapting to the possibilities and advantages of post-truth politics. They have readily used a pliable media in propagating falsehoods and false issues in Philippine political life.
Aquino with no credentials and experience for national leadership, took to faking his way through the presidency.
His lapses in governance and leadership are legion. He reached the nadir with his bungling of Mamasapano.
When questions about his actions and lack of action became too much, he offered an “alternative truth” to what happened in Mamasapano, and sought to free himself from responsibility. This alternative truth is writ all over his statement the other day on Mamasapano, but it is doubtful whether Aquino can sustain it under questioning by an independent inquiry.
Duterte is in a political quicksand of his own, as a result of his self- declared war on drugs, and tentative steps toward authoritarianism.
The drug war looks hopelessly mired in deception. There are no facts to support the war declaration, let alone the summary killing of thousands. Instead of facts, the nation is supplied fake facts, like the doubtful “4 million drug addicts.”
As a consequence, a world global survey has listed the Philippines as the country where the people have the least trust in each other in the world!
This is the people’s reply to the fecklessness of their political leaders. Leadership cannot be faked, because the problems are real!